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Reign of Edward III page 6

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These just admonitions were all lost on the prince. He assembled a force, recalling his officers from the bands of the Companions, 12,000 of whom, on learning that he was about to take the field, left Du Guesclin, headed by Sir Hugh Calverley and Sir Robert Knowles, and followed his banners, believing in the ascendancy of his fortune, and careless of every other motive. The Prince of Wales came into action with the troops of Don Enrique and Du Guesclin at Najara, routed them with a loss of 20,000 men, and easily reinstated the tyrant upon the throne. But there the success of the Black Prince ceased. He could net make the monster Pedro anything but a monster; and Pedro immediately displayed his diabolical disposition by proposing to the prince to murder all their prisoners in cold blood, which the prince indignantly refused.

And now the punishment of the Prince of Wales for this unhappy deed - a foul blot for ever on his brilliant escutcheon - came fast and heavily upon him; so fast, so heavily, so palpably, that the writers of the time plainly ascribed it to the displeasure of a righteous Providence. The tyrant, once restored, gave him immediate proof of the miserable work he had done, by refusing to fulfil a single stipulation that he had made. He left the prince's army without the pay so liberally promised* and without provisions. The prince was exposed to the murmurs of his deluded soldiers. The heat of the climate and strange and unwholesome food began to sweep them off in great numbers, whilst his own health gave way, never to be restored. He made his way back to Bordeaux as well as he could, where he arrived in July, 1367, with a ruined constitution, and covered with debts, incurred on behalf of the ungrateful tyrant. To discharge the debt due to his troops, he laid a tax on hearths, not unknown in England, but new to the Gascons, which was calculated to produce 1,200,000 francs a year. But the inhabitants resented this tax on their chimneys, or fouage, as they called it, excessively. It was the climax to a host of grievances of which they began vehemently to complain - as, of all offices and honours being conferred on foreigners; of harsh treatment, like that of a conquered people; and, as the Black Prince did not pay any attention to their complaints, the Counts of Armagnac, Comminge, Perigord, and d'Albret carried them to the King of France, as their ancient lord paramount.

While the Prince of Wales was thus about to be embroiled with France, on account of his ill-fated restoration of Don Pedro, he had the mortification to learn that that savage had only regained his throne to wreak the most diabolical cruelties on his subjects, whom he now regarded as rebels. Du Guesclin, having obtained his ransom, once more joined Enrique de Transtamara to expel the despot. He defended himself with, desperate valour, but he was eventually defeated, and blockaded in the castle of Montiel. As he had only about a dozen men with him, and the castle was destitute of provisions, Don Pedro attempted to steal out at night; but he was seized by a French officer; and such was the implacable fury of the two brothers against each other, that, as soon as Don Enrique heard of his capture, he flew to the tent where he was in custody. There, after insulting and irritating each other, the two proceeded to a deadly struggle, in which Don Enrique stabbed Pedro to the heart with his dagger.

Such were the fruits for which the Prince of Wales had sacrificed his honour - his life, as it proved - and the peace of his provinces. The wary Charles Y. had long been eagerly watching the proceedings of the English. He had on various pretences deferred the fulfilment of the conditions of the treaty of Britigni, and now, on the plea that it was void, he summoned the Black Prince to Paris, as his vassal, to answer the complaints of his subjects: The treaty of Britigni liberated the English provinces from all feudal subjection, and made them independent. When the heralds conveyed the summons to the Black Prince, his eyes flamed with indignation at this breach of faith; he looked furiously on the messengers, and exclaimed, "Is it even so? Does our fair cousin desire to see us at Paris? Gladly will we go thither; but I assure you, sirs, that it shall be with our basnets on our heads, and at the head of 60,000 men."

The messengers dropped on their knees in terror, begging him to remember that they only did the message of him who sent them. But the prince, deigning them no word, left them in wrath, and the courtiers ordered them to get away as fast as they could; but the prince, hearing of their departure, sent after them and brought them back, but did them no injury.

Thus were England and France once more plunged into war through the ill-timed restoration of a base tyrant; with general discontent in the English provinces in the south of France, and the health of the prince fast failing. The French king had carefully calculated the declining vigour of Edward III., as well as the health of his son; and now he advanced to war to regain the territories he had lost, and avenge the mortal injuries which his country had suffered from the English, attended by a host of advantageous circumstances: these were, discontent in the English provinces, and disunion amongst the commanders of the forces. On his own side he had with him the spirit and wishes of the whole country. Many of the great commanders who had assisted to win the proud laurels of Edward and the Black Prince were dead, or sunk into old age. The Free Companions, who had served under the Black Prince, were dismissed from the want of that very pay which the tyrant Pedro had refused, and were now eagerly engaged by the French king. The feudal troops and the archery of England, the very soul of the army, had returned home at the end of the war, and it would now require much time and expenditure of money to collect them again.

On the other hand, a new generation had sprung up in France, who had not known the terrors of Crecy or Poictiers, but only had heard of the defeat of France and the death of their fathers, and burned to avenge them. The terrible King of England was old; his lion-hearted son was known to be sinking into the grave. It seemed as if the doom of Heaven was pronounced on the power of tho English. They had overrun and destroyed, but taken no pains to conciliate, and the hatred which flamed in the hearts of the people was fanned and made holy by the universal voice of the clergy, producing everywhere revolt from the English, and adhesion to the French monarch. Charles had prepared for this crisis for years, husbanding his income till he was called not only the Wise, but the Wealthy; and the people, now kindled with the spirit of patriotism, submitted cheerfully to new taxes for reconquering the independence of their country, even to that same fouage which, imposed in Gascony, had cost the Prince of Wales his popularity: so much does the payment of a tax depend on the person who imposes it, and the purpose for which it is demanded.

Still the Black Prince, though ill, was not cast down. Some of the Free Companions, spite of the defection of their fellows, joined him to the number of 6,000 lances, under the brave Sir Hugh Calverley; and Edward III. sent from England a considerable army under the command of the Earl of Cambridge, the prince's brother, and Sir John Hastings, the Earl of Pembroke, his brother-in-law.

The King of France fell on the province of Ponthieu, which gave the English admittance into the heart of France. The people everywhere received him with open arms, showing how completely all the efforts of England to conquer France had been thrown away. The citizens of Abbeville opened their gates to him. Those of St, Valeri, Rue, and Crotoy followed their example, and in a very little time the whole country was regained by the French.

In Poictou the brothers of Charles, the Dukes of Berri and Anjou, assisted by the gallant Du Guesclin, were equally successful. Lord Audley, the son of that Sir James Audley who distinguished himself so greatly at the battle of Poictiers, who was seneschal of the province, fell sick and died in the very commencement of the war, to the extreme grief of the prince, who made the celebrated Sir John Chandos his successor. But jealousies amongst the commanders, now the Prince of Wales was unable to be at the head of his armies, produced disastrous consequences, and worse very soon followed in the death of the brave Chandos. That enterprising leader proposed to the Earl of Pembroke to join- him in an expedition against Louis de Sancerre, the Marshal of France. But Pembroke, jealous of the fame of Sir John, and instigated by his flatterers, who insinuated that with such a renowned general the earl would come off with very little of the glory of the undertaking, declined the proposal. Sir John Chandos, disgusted by the refusal, retired into the city of Poictiers, and dismissed such troops as were not necessary for its defence.

No sooner had he done this, than the Earl of Pembroke issued forth with 200 spears to win distinction for himself, and waste the lands of the nobles who were opposed to the Black Prince's taxation. This was good news for the Marshal Sancerre, who had little fear when he learned that Chandos had retired in displeasure. He came suddenly with an overwhelming force on Pembroke near the village of Puyrenon, killed a considerable number of his knights, and compelled him to take refuge in an old church of the abolished Knights Templars. Pembroke, now awake to his folly, dispatched a messenger to Sir John Chandos for help. The messenger did not reach Poictiers till the next morning, when Sir John was at breakfast. On hearing Pembroke's appeal, he coolly went to mass, glad, no doubt, to let the envious nobleman feel the effects of his foolish conduct. Meantime the battle at the church was going on vigorously, the English stoutly defending their retreat, but feeling, from the thinness of the walls and want of provisions, that they could not hold out long. Another messenger was dispatched to Sir John, accompanied by a most earnest entreaty, and a valuable ring from the finger of the earl himself. Sir John was at dinner when the messenger arrived, describing in earnest words the imminent danger of the earl and his followers. Sir John had not yet forgiven the young nobleman. He went on with his dinner, saying, "If it be as you say, nothing can save him." But anon, lifting up his head, he said to his knights and esquires around him, "Hear me, sirs! the Earl of Pembroke is a noble person, and of high lineage, son-in-law to our natural lord, the King of England. Foul shame were it to see him lost, if we can save him. I will go, by the grace of God. Make ready, sirs, for Puyrenon!"

Two hundred men-at-arms mounted in haste, and, Sir John at their head, galloped off to surprise the Marshal of Sancerre while besieging Pembroke in the Temple-house. But the wary French, apprised of the approach of Sir John, speedily drew off and escaped.

In December of the same year, 1370, Sir John Chandos lost his life in a confused skirmish, owing to want of proper co-operation amongst the English commanders; and his loss was soon obvious in a greater lack of spirit and success in the English army in the south of France; the gallant Captal de Buche, who preceded Sir John as seneschal of Guienne, being taken prisoner, and lost to the English service.

Meantime Edward III. had sent fresh forces to Calais under his son the Duke of Lancaster, commonly called John of Gaunt, in alliance with the Count of Namur. The King of France sent a still larger army to oppose the inroads of these forces under his brother Philip, the Duke of Burgundy, but commanded him on no account to come to a general engagement with the English, lest the fate of Crecy and Poictiers should once more overtake him. The duke posted himself between St. Omer and Tournehan, where the Duke of Lancaster came out against him, but could not induce the French to fight. The Duke of Burgundy, impatient of this inglorious position, desired to be recalled, and the king ordered him to fall back on Paris. Then John of Gaunt advanced, pillaging and laying waste the country in the old English manner from Calais to Bordeaux, while Sir Robert Knowles, the Free Companion leader, with an army of 30,000 men, took his way by Terouenne and through Artois, burning and destroying all before him. He next advanced to the very gates of Paris, up to which one of his knights rode, and struck a blow with his spear, having made a vow that he would strike his lance on the gate of Paris. The daring warrior, however, lost his life returning through the suburbs, being cut down by a gigantic butcher with his cleaver. After that Knowles marched into Brittany for winter quarters, On their inarch that fatal disunion which now infected the English army once more showed itself. Lord Grandison, Lord Fitzwalter, and other English nobles, refused to follow Knowles into Brittany. They declared that it did not become noblemen like themselves to serve under a man of mean birth, as Sir Robert Knowles was, and they drew off their forces to Anjou and Touraino.

Bertrand du Guesclin, now made Constable of France, hearing of this disunion from an English traitor, Sir John Menstreworth, pursued Knowles to cut him off. Knowles sent information of this pursuit to Lord Grandison and his disdainful aristocratic companions; but too late, for Du Guesclin overtook them at Pont Volant, defeated them, and slew the greater part of these proud exclusives. Knowles made good his retreat into Brittany, and Menstreworth the traitor, falling into the hands of the English, was put to death.

About this time the Black Prince performed his last military exploit; and it was one calculated to become an additional brand on his name in France. Limoges, the capital of Limousin, had been betrayed to the Dukes of Anjou and Berri by the bishop and the chief inhabitants. The prince was greatly enraged, both because the bishop had been his personal friend, and because he had conferred many privileges on the citizens. He was now too weak to mount a horse, but he ordered out 1.200 lancers and 2,000 archers, and being borne in an open litter at the head of his troops, he advanced to take vengeance on Limoges. The garrison treated with scorn his summons to surrender. But his sappers soon undermined the wall, though Du Guesclin did all he could by a flying force to draw off his attention. Some authors say that he there used gunpowder, lately introduced, to blow up the mine, as they contend that his father used cannon in the battle of Crecy. Others say that he threw down the wall by burning the props which supported the excavation while in progress. Whatever was now the mode, he made a breach, and his troops, rushing in, perpetrated the most ruthless and indiscriminate slaughter. The poor people, men, women, and children, knelt in the streets, and threw themselves down before the prince, crying, "Mercy! mercy for God's sake!" But the inexorable prince turned a deaf ear to these moving prayers from the innocent people, who had nothing whatever to do with the surrender of the city, and 4,000 were put to death. The only pity which he showed was to the bishop who gave up the place, and to a knot of brave knights whom he found standing with their backs to a wall, engaged in mortal combat with his brothers the Dukes of Lancaster and Cambridge, and Pembroke, his brother-in-law. After watching their gallant defence some time in high admiration, he consented to accept their submission, and dismissed them with praises. This extraordinary man - a striking proof how war can petrify a heart very noble by nature - could still feel delight in the spectacle of a brave feat of arms, though his soul was become utterly callous to every sentiment of pity for his fellow-men in general. He gave up the city to be sacked, and it was burnt to the ground.

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